Professor Stephen V. Arbogast Brings Years of Global Energy Expertise to Bauer
It’s not unusual to hear about the world-class faculty at the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. But to understand the depth of the college’s expertise in energy studies and global finance, consider Bauer Professor Stephen V. Arbogast.
Hired to work in the Exxon Treasurer’s Department straight out of graduate school at Princeton, Arbogast spent 32 years with the energy giant. By the time he retired in 2004, he was Treasurer of ExxonMobil Chemical Company — with a résumé that included overseas assignments in Thailand and Brazil. Today, the Bauer Executive Professor of Finance brings to the classroom more than 50 case studies based on his extensive experience at ExxonMobil.
For almost 30 years, Arbogast has brought his intellectual curiosity and seasoned business vision to the classroom. While based in New York, he taught at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business (1986-1987). After moving to Houston in the mid-’90s, he became an adjunct professor at Bauer and went full-time around the time he left Exxon.
In addition to teaching courses in project finance, ethics and international business, Arbogast is an author and researcher at Bauer’s Global Energy Management Institute (GEMI). On these fronts, 2013 is shaping up to be a busy and exciting time for the executive-turned-professor.
- In January, Arbogast traveled to Phoenix to discuss a GEMI study on pyrolysis oil at the annual meeting of the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium (NABC), a three-year project that seeks to develop cost-effective, sustainable biofuels for today’s transportation infrastructure. Commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Arbogast and three former colleagues from Exxon, including Bauer Professor Don Bellman, spent two years working on the detailed economic study of the biofuel, looking at “how it might be organized as an industry that is compatible with refining.” The Arizona meeting gave the professor an opportunity to trumpet Bauer research in front of such formidable industry giants as Chevron and BP.
- In late February, M&M Scrivener Press published the second edition of Arbogast’s “Resisting Corporate Corruption,” which he uses to complement his Ethics and Finance course. Originally released in 2008, the book chronicled the fall of Enron through 17 case studies; the updated volume adds 13 new cases examining the financial crisis of 2007-2009 through the lens of ethics. “But instead of them being about one company,” Arbogast says, “they are about many players in the financial crisis: Countrywide, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, AIG, Lehman Brothers and Fannie Mae.”
The New York native studied government at Cornell University in the “tumultuous ’60s,” then segued into graduate school at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
He recalls his introduction to Exxon as a heady time in which he learned the ropes of international finance. “My early days involved handling credit issues in Japan, getting money out of Nicaragua and solving problems under high inflation in Brazil.’’
He also got a crash course on the technical side of the energy sector. “I learned fundamentals of international logistics, refining, refining economics, petrochemical economics and the basics of oil exploration and production.” Arbogast estimates working something like 25 different jobs during his time with the company.
That he is so conversant in both the financial and science sides of energy is what makes him such a venerated figure at the college. In 2008, he was awarded Bauer College’s Payne Teaching Excellence Award.
In particular, Arbogast’s overseas experience gives him a special affinity with Bauer’s international community. “Bauer is blessed by having a very large number of high-quality international students,” he says. “So they find the International Finance course often touches on things that they know from their home country. And they are interested in energy finance.”
When he teaches Ethics and Finance, he not only uses case studies from Enron and other companies, but also brings in crucial players who were eyewitnesses to the corruption. Sherron Watkins, who was Enron’s vice president of corporate development and is often viewed as the company whistleblower, has visited Arbogast’s classroom in the past and was recently back on campus to talk to his spring-semester students.
The GEMI study of pyrolysis oil came out of a UH energy conference, “The Future of the Gulf Coast Refining Industry,” put together by Arbogast in 2006.
Pyrolysis was a hot topic at the meeting, and ENREL asked GEMI to analyze the potential industry. Arbogast and his colleagues worked on the project for two years, from 2009 to 2010, and their work has become an important point of discussion at NBAC.
So what did GEMI discover about this biofuel?
Says Arbogast: “I would say that the major finding was that you could conceive of a pyrolysis oil industry in the southeastern United States, drawing on the woodsheds of east Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama that eventually could produce 500,000 barrels a day of fuel. So a first question was: ‘Could you actually see this turning into an industry that would be sufficiently big that it’s worth caring about?’ And our answer to that was: ‘Potentially, yes.’ ’’
Still, many questions remain about how the pyrolysis industry would be organized and whether it would be cost efficient on a large scale. Going forward, Arbogast and his group have mapped out a 10-year program of continued research and development.
“I think the conclusion of our study was to pinpoint the places where research and development have to take place and the kind of money that would be involved to implement this kind of biofuel on a commercial scale.”
Now you can see why the college is so proud of executive professors like Arbogast. Whether the topic is project finance, ethics or developing new biofuels, his wide-ranging experiences and passion for teaching bring energy and excitement to the classroom.
By Wendell Brock